Bloomberg CityLab has a new video out talking about how Vienna has seemingly solved the housing unaffordability problem that is impacting most global cities around the world. Each year Vienna builds about 14,000 new housing units and about half of this is supply is “affordable.” Already over 60% of Viennese live in an affordable home. The title of the video suggests that their approach is radical, but is that really the case?
What was clear to me when I watched the video is that there are perhaps two key differences in terms of how Vienna approaches this problem. One, they quite simply care about delivering high-quality affordable housing to the middle class. They think it’s culturally important and they believe that architecture and design matters. Two, they are willing to invest in it, both up front and over time (maintenance).
In the video, the former Vice Mayor of Vienna talks about how the City will go out and buy land (or use already owned land) and then make it available (sale or lease) at discounted rates so that it makes economic sense for non-profit housing developers. If the math still doesn’t work for the private sector, then there are other subsidies available.
I’m certainly not an expert on Vienna’s approach to housing delivery. And I’m not suggesting it’s perfect. My knowledge base comes largely from one 13 minute episode by CityLab. But I think it’s notable that I didn’t pickup anything in the video about inclusionary zoning leading the way (which I have argued before tends to shift the burden to the remaining market rate housing units). Instead, they value it and they invest in it. There’s no such thing as a free lunch.